A thick blanket of darkness loomed overhead, the ‘sky’ of today's world. They knew neither of warmer nor of brighter days, having this concept of ‘sky’ ingrained into them since untold years before.
In a corner of the land beneath, there stood a majestic forest that could easily cover a small country of the past, existing like a bright candle in the darkness as it stood in the lifeless backdrop of ruins surrounding it.
Yet, even this forest was clearly not spared from damage, as seen from the dull-coloured leaves and droopy trees that lacked the vibrance and life forests were known to embody, in stark contrast from forests of the old.
However, there was life even in this desolate forest.
In a small corner of the forest's south, there stood a field where eight human-like creatures stood, looking nervously towards their front where a clearly elder creature of the same race sternly gave them a lecture.
The eight of them would easily have passed off as humans, and beautiful ones at that, with the trait of snow-coloured complexions and smooth silver hair that shone through even amidst the darkness. That is, if not for their distinct sharp ears that pointed out towards the sides.
If anything, they resembled the creatures of fantasy lore more than humans, the race known as elves. The eight on the field could easily be seen to be elven children while the one several heads taller before them was an elven male adult.
This was a field in the central village of the Calla Tribe, a small elven tribe which lived near the southern border of the elven territory.
Elves were generally known lack of physical strength that compared to many of the other races, but more than made up for it with keen eyes and sensitive ears that more that made up for it, make them a deadly presence on any battlefield.
Yet, what the raced was most famed for was not their strength on the battlefield, but rather their exemplary physical appearances with the feeble air from their complexions and glittering hair, solidifying their renown as one of the most beautiful races in the world.
The bodies of elves developed similar to humans in the early phases, but there a stark difference came when they came of age at the average age of 20 years, when their bodies would stop ageing, keeping them in a state of 'eternal youth'.
However, they too were not immortal, and their lives still ended when the time came. Once an elf has lived to an age of 120, their bodies' condition would begin to deteriorate rapidly until death.
That said, none of this have any part in the minds of these eight youthful elves, elves who were still ways off from maturing into full grown adults.
All that was on the mind of these elves currently was the big coming-of-age ceremony that was about to come, the defining event in every elf in the Calla tribe where they undergo trials and break free of their shells and truly get recognised as adults after completing it.
Naturally, in face of such a big event, the thoughts running through each of their minds were different. Some had worry-filled expressions filled with anxiety while others had excitement and anticipation shining through their youthful eyes as they struggled to keep their attention to the lecture.
Among them, there was a boy who had round, topaz coloured eyes, his hair shining even more than that of his peers such that it was almost white rather than silver.
His name was Alz, and he was also burning with emotions as with his peers. However, it was not the trials that stirred them, but something else. An inevitability that would follow the trial and something he regarded more importantly than the trials, reuniting with his parents.
The forest was home to the elves without a doubt, but it wasn't that they were the only race as the wolves also resided within. Each year much blood is spilt and many warriors haven fallen for the sake of the tribes.
Hence, the safety of the young who are the lifeblood of the tribes is highly critical, leading to special measures are employed to safeguard them. Here in the Calla Tribe, the village was split into the central and frontier villages with multiple frontier villages surrounding and protecting the central village.
When young elves are born, it was a village tradition to send the children back to the central village to be nurtured, until they finally reached the age of 10 whereby they would undergo the coming-of-age ceremonies and be sent to the frontier villages for training.
They would learn the ropes from their seniors at the respective villages and learn the skill they need for contributing the tribe and survival, ensuring the tribes' continued existence.
There were two types of trials available, a warrior trial and a supporter trial. The warrior trial involved sending the youths to experienced warriors to learn how to handle themselves in combat and to forage for materials in the forest
Meanwhile the supporter trial had various aspects such as cooking and apothecary among many others, training them to be reliable pillars of support for the frontlines and allowing the villages to maintain its function.
Male hatchlings were generally required to undergo the warrior trial as the Calla tribe was constantly faced with a shortage of warriors and more warriors meant greater safety in each village as well. The only exceptions came when some male elves were born with extremely weak constitutions were found to have remarkable talent in another area.
Female hatchlings on the other hand had a choice between both but were usually advised to go for the supporter trials as they had inherently less physical strength than their most male counterparts in general.
The elven race was also one where the young do not come by easy and hence, adding the strain of battle to their bodies was unwelcome in the face of the many losses against the wolves.
That said, female warriors had also left a huge mark in the Calla tribe's history as there was a huge attack in the past which left the village at a huge shortage of warriors in its aftermath, forcing many elves male and female alike to be conscripted to tide through that difficult period.
"How do they look like?”
The faint vestiges of memory having faded over the past decade, all that he could remember was the warmth of their embrace that was deeply imprinted in the depths of his mind, helping him curb his longing throughout these years.
As his daze continued, Alz subconsciously raised his hand and gripped tightly onto the pendent hung around his neck. It was the only memento he had of his parents, a simple wooden pendent with his name inscribed on it that his father had made for him personally.
"Hey... Hey Alz! Stop spacing out!" a soft whisper came in from the side, accompanied by a sharp pain on his waist which immediately jolted him from his reverie.
“Ah! Yeah, I’m listening, I was always listening! Please let go, it hurts...” Alz hastily replied as he briefly looked down at the two fingers pinching him by the waist as he replied the culprit behind his sudden pain.
"Hmph!" Caila pinched Alz's skin down even harder for a quick moment before releasing him, her sky-coloured eyes still pointing towards the lecturer ahead the entire time.
"You clearly weren't paying attention! How long do you I've known you?" Caila mumbled under her breath, her lips barely moving despite the clearly voiced words. Finding himself at a loss for words, an awkward smile flashed across Alz's lips as he returned his attention the lecturer.
"WHAT ARE THE BOTH OF YOU DOING!? STOP FOOLING AROUND!" However, what welcomed him was a steely glare directed towards him and Caila, causing Alz to flinch backwards in shock.
“See! now he's angry at me too.” Caila mumbled even softer than before after the lecturer looked away, not wanting to attract his attention again.
"Aha... thanks." letting out a dry laugh, Alz peeked down at his left palm where there were four marks deeply imprinted on his skin from his nails, with some thick, red liquid slowly seeping through.
"Are you okay?” Caila's voice rang out again, deeply tinged with concern.
“Yeah, it's just a light scratch.” Alz half-heartedly replied.
“I’m not talking about the wound!” Caila turned to glare at Alz, even forgetting entirely about the lecturer for a moment. In the next instant, her eyes immediately darted back to the front, heaving a sigh of relief when she saw that the lecturer didn't catch them this time. However, her two fingers had also moved back to Alz's waist, positioned to strike once again.
"I'm fine, really. I just got a little too excited." Alz reassured Caila with a genuine smile as his hands swiftly moved to diffuse the threat on his waist.
Seeing this, Caila's expression finally lightened with relief and continued, "That's okay then. Anyways, you'd better listen carefully! We're going to need to know all of these for our trials."
"Don't worry, don't worry! We'll always have you, don't we? The four of us will be going together anyways!" a carefree voice interjected suddenly from Alz's left, cutting into the conversation.
He was Link, another of Alz's childhood friends while the last of the four he mentioned was Polon who was further to Link's left and the incidentally also the leftmost elf of the row.
It was no coincidence that the four of them were standing here together, as all four of them were brought in the same batch from the fourth village. Of the four, Caila was the oldest while Alz was the youngest.
Perhaps also because of this, Caila had the tendency to watch over the three of them as they went about their usual mischief, acting as a 'big sister' to the three of them as the four of them developed a relationship akin to sibling across these years.
While this made the three of them irritated at times, they knew that Caila always had their best interest at heart and always felt very thankful towards her, knowing the deep sincerity behind her concern towards them. Particularly so since they were all separated from their parents from birth, allowing them to further appreciate this care towards them.
However, this had also led to an unhealthy reliance towards Caila in many things, especially so when they were facing matters that they felt were troublesome, such as the lecture before them.
"You know I can't always be with you guys! I will be on a different trial too..." Caila replied with a hint of loneliness that Alz managed to capture. Hearing this, the mood dampened and the three of them fell silent.
She was willing to help them with trivial matters, but the trials were different, and this was going to be the first time they would be separated since arriving at the central village 10 years ago. While she was willing to close an eye and help with small matters usually, this was different from the usual.
"Don't worry, we still have Polon! He's so quiet the entire time for once, he must have been seriously--" Alz tried to fix the mood of the conversation but stopped halfway with his mouth agape in astonishment as he looked towards Polon.
While it was true the Polon was serious, he was serious about an entirely different thing altogether. His eyes were both closed with his head slightly lowered, wearing a silly smile on his face with drool trickling the sides of his lips, clearly in deep sleep.
"Haa... He was like this from the very start. You said it yourself, didn't you? That it was weird he's been so quiet." Link replied with an exasperated sigh as he shook his head in an exaggerated manner.
Knowing there was little use in trying to get Polon to actually listen to the lecture, the three of them refocused their attention to the lecture with renewed vigour, in part so they could help Polon out during the trials that were to come.
Afterall, all of them understood just how importance this knowledge would be for the trials, particularly for the warriors as it would be a matter of life and death on the battlefield and that there was no room for kidding around.
Also, with Polon in this state, they needed to find some time to help explain everything to Polon after he woke up too, and this could only be done if they knew what was being taught here.
As for the other four elves in the line, Alz's group wasn't close to them as they were elves who were native to the central village, so the two groups hardly interacted with each other before this.
There was a total of seven frontier villages, named the first to seventh villages respectively and adding to a total of eight settlements under the Calla tribe when including the central village.
While the children who were born in the respective frontier villages would return to the villages they were born in, those who were born in the central village also needed to undergo these trials and would be send to the most shorthanded one among the frontier villages, which was the fourth village this time.
Hence, the eight of them made up the group that was assigned to the fourth village for their trials with a total of six male and two female elves. The six male elves including Alz, Polon and Link were going for the warrior trial while the two female elves were going to take on the supporter trail.
The elf who was currently lecturing them was assigned to their group as he was a returnee from completing his trial in the fourth village a few years back and would also be bringing them over to the fourth village soon after this lecture concludes.
Having been tasked to prepare the eight of them for their stay in the fourth village, he was currently giving the eight of them a basic rundown on the things they needed to watch out for in the fourth village.
After guiding them to the fourth village, he would then hand them over to the local guard team. They would then be monitored, and progress reports will be sent back to the central village at six-month intervals based on their performance.
After the 30th report, at the end of a 15-years, their progress would then be evaluated by the village council, offering youths with promise to return to the central village while the others would have to remain in the frontier village.
Several minutes later.
“……And that will be all. We're heading out!” taking a quick glance at the sky, the senior concluded his lecture and instructed the eight of them to move out as he started moving towards the village entrance without delay.
Another five grown male elves lounging around by the side immediately grabbed their bags and stood up as well, following closely behind the lecturer in some sort of formation, their actions falling completely in rhythm with each other without any time at all.
The eight youths reacted half a beat slower, but immediately chased behind in the gap at the centre that was clearly left for them... all except one. Noticing that Polon was still happily in dreamland, Link placed his arms on Polon's shoulder and roughly shook him awake, dragging the half asleep Polon to follow behind.
After five days of walking, the journey finally ended with no incident.
However, this had still been a long, tiring journey for the youths as it was the first time any of them had to walk for such prolonged periods of time.
Fortunately, the seniors were also very understanding to their plight and were kind along the entire journey, accommodating to them by slowing the place to match them and also constantly providing rest stops and refreshments along the way.
Joy and relief flickered across the eyes of the tired youths as they caught sight of the row of fences before them that was about two meters high, encircling several generously spaced thatched buildings within.
While not as big as the central village, the frontier village was clearly more than sufficient to house the population of 150 here.
About two hours later, the group finally circled around the fence, arriving at the wooden gate stationed with two guards, having a signboard reading 'Fourth Village' in elven script before them.
"We're here. You're all now on your own, good luck for your trials." the lecturer turned around to face the youths with a rare smile on his face, giving them his words of encouragement before walking towards the two village guards.